"The game with the little net thing? That's a sport?"
"Yeah, can you believe it? And I suck."
"So why are you doing it?"
"Why else? Mami wants me to make friends."
This made us both laugh. Mitzi has always been kind of shy, her mother's exact opposite. It got really bad when the boys in our class went insta- stupid over Mitzi's boobs in elementary school. After that, it was me who had to tell the boys to shut their filthy mouths and ask for the movie tickets and the explanation for the homework, too.
"You coming to Queens soon?" I don't want to say I miss you because she already knows that.
"The first weekend that I don't have a game. Maybe we can go shopping for your birthday present."
I couldn't answer through the tight feeling in my throat.
"Look, Piddy, don't worry. It's going to be okay," Mitzi said before we hung up. "Take it from me. You can't do anything about moving, anyway, so try to make the best of it. Besides, people always like you. You're going to kick butt."
I was already missing Lila as the three of us packed up our old kitchen a week later. I was sitting at the piano bench, plucking at the stuck keys.
"Ay, Clara, tell this kid to stop with the sad face; she's breaking my heart." Lila taped newspaper around two plates and kissed my forehead. "Your mami's right. You can't stay here." She wiped the lipstick off my skin with her handkerchief and tucked it back inside her bra. "The whole place is turning to dust."
Ma looked up and frowned at me.
"Piddy, stop that racket and help us. And quit moping. You should be thankful." She yanked tape over a box of pots. "The new apartment's not far, and did you see? it even has a yard."
I gave her a stony stare.
"That patch of dirt?"
"It has roses," she said. "You can sit outside with a new friend from school and smell their perfume," she continued. "That's good for a young girl."
"Ay,Ma . . ." I muttered
" 'Ay,Ma,' what?" she mimicked.
Ma is always inventing endless things that are "good for a young girl" which means, specifically, me. Hemming pants. Washing out underwear by hand because "What decent woman puts her private things in a public washer?" Learning to fry chicken so it isn't bloody near the bone. Speaking rudimentary French. Cross- stitching pillows I kid you not so I'll know how to stitch my baby's initials into its bibs someday. All sorts of pointless things that are supposed to improve me "for the future."
Too bad I have other plans in mind.
Ma doesn't know it, but I'm going to be a scientist. I want to work with animals, big ones like elephants, maybe even live halfway across the world. It's weird, I know. There aren't any elephants here in Queens, not even at the zoo. But we have the National Geographic channel, so I know they're smart and they can feel and hear things people can't. They can keep a herd's whole history all the good and the bad they've ever seen in their memory. If I told this to Ma, her screams would touch the sky. "¿ Elefantes?" She'd nag about malaria and the smell of dung I'd never get out from under my nails. She'd ask me what kind of decent girl is interested in elephants. And so on.
It's times like these I wish I were Lila's daughter instead. Not that Ma doesn't love me or that Lila likes elephants. It's just that Lila doesn't bother me. She's never had kids of her own, thank God, so she doesn't have the slightest idea of what's good for me. She doesn't ask me if I've done my homework or where I've been. When Ma works late, we fi ll up on butter cookies for dinner and watch the good shows that Ma calls trash. If I were Lila's kid, life might actually be fun.
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